In this review, we investigate the top 10 best hotels which are closest to Universal Resort Orlando in Florida. We outline several on-site hotels below, but it is worth noting that only three include Fast Passes, the cost of which you need to factor in. Also, by staying on-site, you get park access before the park opens to the general public, again making staying on-site worth paying a little bit extra for, so you can optimize your park visits, avoid queues where possible, and have the best stay at Universal Orlando. The Universal characters also make appearances at the Universal hotels, which is fun.
If you buy an Express passes you can’t skip the lines at the Harry Potter rides, but all onsite hotel guests (including those staying at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort) get to enter both Wizarding Worlds an hour before the general public, so you can ride before the general public gets access and the lines become too long.
Worth knowing: To ride the themed train that connects Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, guests need two-park passes to both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
Wherever you decide to stay, in Orlando or elsewhere, book via our luxury travel concierge. We offer free upgrades, free breakfasts, and free perks at hotels, including the Four Seasons, Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental, and more.
Typically, our free benefits at luxury hotels include:
- Room upgrade to next category
- Complimentary breakfast for two per bedroom
- Complimentary Welcome Gift
- $100 USD equivalent Hotel experiential credit per room per stay
- Early check-in / late check-out (subject to availability)
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Best Way To Get An Express Pass:
There are only three on-site hotels at Universal Orlando Resort that offer Universal Express Passes. These are Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Hotel. Guests staying at Sapphire Falls and Cabana Bay can purchase Universal Express passes separately and also skip the lines, but bear in mind this brings the cost of the latter two hotels up to a similar price to the original big three, so always factor in entry and fast pass ticket prices when finally tallying up hotel prices.
Universal Orlando Resort actually has six beautiful resorts on the property. All of them offer fabulous pools, loads of family and kids’ activities, and free shuttles to the theme parks, but only the three outlined above also offer free Universal Express Unlimited Passes.
That said, all onsite hotel guests (including those staying at the Cabana Bay Beach Resort) get to enter both Wizarding Worlds an hour before the general public, so you can ride before the general public gets access and the lines become too long, if you stay at one of these hotels, whether you have an express pass or not.
Therefore, staying at a Universal Orlando Resort offers the easiest and cheapest way to get the Universal Express Pass. In fact, staying at a Universal Orlando Resort may be the best reason to stay at an on-site hotel.
If you want to buy a Universal Express Pass, it costs extra over and above the normal theme park admission. It’s easiest to buy your passes online. You can buy these passes at the entrance gate, but there is usually a queue (ironically) to buy the fast passes.
What Does The Express Pass Get You:
- Express passes don’t allow holders to skip all of the ride lines. The vast majority of attractions are included, the Wizarding World headliners, Harry Potter and the Escape From Gringotts, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Hogwarts Express are notably excluded
- The Universal Express Unlimited Pass allows unlimited access, meaning you can use the pass multiple times on the same attraction. You get this if you buy this more expensive Unlimited pass. You can purchase a one-day 2-Park Universal Express Unlimited Pass, a Universal Express Unlimited Pass for Islands of Adventure only, or for Universal Studios only
- The Universal Express Pass is cheaper, which you can use only one time on each ride. You can buy a one-day two-park Universal Express Pass or a one-park Universal Express Pass. Or you can get it free if you stay at one of the best Universal Orlando hotels
If you are staying at Universal Hotels, you still need to buy Park tickets. Fastpass tickets are included, but you still need to pay for the park entrance. We advise guests to “check-in” to the hotel as early as possible and any time after 6:00 am on your check-in day. You will immediately be given a hotel key card that serves as your Universal Express Unlimited throughout your stay (your park entry ticket must be purchased separately). They will hold your bags and issue you a room when it is ready. but by checking in early, you will have access to all the Universal Express Unlimited privileges, preferred restaurant seating, and pool access, etc. from as early as 6:00 am your
Universal Studios Florida expanded to become Universal Orlando, described as “a destination theme park resort”. The second park was Islands of Adventure, the CityWalk shopping and entertainment district, and its first and best hotel, Portofino Bay.
Expansion continued with additional hotels and the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands, Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida, and Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure.
Today, the Univeral park is arguably as good as Disney, so where should you visit and where should you stay? On-site, at Universal Orlando, Disney World, or at one off-site hotels near the two resorts?
What IS included At Universal Orlando On-site Hotels?:
- Early Park Admission† to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ and select attractions at Volcano Bay™ water theme park, one hour before the theme parks open (valid theme park admission required)
- Complimentary water taxis or shuttle buses that take you directly to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay and CityWalk™
- Resort-wide charging privileges with your room key card
- Complimentary delivery of merchandise purchased throughout the resort to your hotel
- Complimentary access to select live entertainment venues at Universal CityWalk™ for the length of stay
- Universal Orlando character appearances with some of your favorite theme park characters
- Start your day with a wake-up call from one of your favorite Universal Orlando characters
- Golf Universal Orlando™ program offers an exclusive program for golfers that enables guests to take to the links during their stay. You can reserve a perfect tee time, arrange for complimentary transportation to and from select courses, and more.
Guests of Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel®, and Loews Royal Pacific Resort enjoy:
- Free Universal Express Unlimited™ ride access to SKIP THE REGULAR LINES in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure—a benefit worth up to $129 USD per person, per day (valid theme park admission required. Available at select on-site hotels.)
- Priority seating at select restaurants throughout both theme parks and enjoy first available seating at select Universal Orlando and Universal CityWalk™ restaurants
The best three Universal hotels offer Club Level Rooms that provide free food, drinks, and snacks throughout the day. So, if you were to stay at the club level of any of these hotels, you can enjoy breakfast in the Lounge before you head over to your first park for early admission and then return to the hotel in the evening to eat out on the varied hors d’oeuvres accompanied by beer, wine, and soda and a sweet dessert. Water bottles are available upon request for taking to the parks along with granola bars, although the quality and quantity of each of these amenities do vary by hotel. You can choose these hotels for their convenience to Universal, but they do not have the level of luxury offered by the Ritz-Carlton Orlando below, which also offers a club lounge but is not directly connected to the Universal resorts.
Also worth noting, when factoring in the price of staying at one of these three hotels: Royal Pacific, Portofino Bay, or Hard Rock, is that free express passes (which allows one to bypass long lines) are included, which immediately takes the room rate down. The value of the express passes to a family of four per day can be up to around $300 USD. So even a $500 USD nightly room rate looks like a great deal when it actually comes in closer to $200 USD. On a busy day, these passes turn a two-hour line into a twenty-minute line. We outline which is the best hotel at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando, Loews Portofino Bay vs. Hard Rock vs. Royal Pacific separately.
1. Loews Portofino Bay
Portofino Bay is undoubtedly the best and most expensive hotel of the three Universal hotels. Crucially, the Loews Portofino Bay rooms are 335 square feet and the largest of the three hotels, with the Hard Rock coming in at the middle. The rooms at the Lowes Royal Pacific are almost 120 square feet smaller.
Crucially, the Loews Portofino Bay rooms are 335 square feet and the largest of the three hotels, with the Hard Rock coming in at the middle. The rooms at the Lowes Royal Pacific are almost 120 square feet smaller.
They say, “Celebrate la dolce vita – the sweet life – at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando. Nestled along the picturesque bay at Universal Orlando Resort, this luxurious hotel recreates the charm and romance of the famed seaside village of Portofino, Italy, right down to the cobblestone streets and outdoor cafes.
This AAA Four Diamond Award-winning hotel features 750 guest rooms, including 45 spacious suites. Each room offers the epitome of European luxury and elegance with authentic Italian furnishings and marble accents, and of course, each guest room is also equipped with all the latest amenities to combine the best of Old World hospitality with modern convenience. Hotel guests enjoy impeccable and attentive service, an opulent spa, three themed swimming pools, and exceptional dining… plus an exclusive package of theme park benefits, including:
Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ one hour before the theme park opens (valid theme park admission required).
Free Universal Express℠ Unlimited ride access to SKIP THE REGULAR LINES in both theme parks all day, a benefit worth up to $125.00 USD per person, per day (valid theme park admission required)…”
We really like this hotel. It is your best luxury hotel choice at Universal Orlando. It is also the most expensive, with the Hard Rock and the Royal Pacific coming in cheaper. All three hotels are on-site at Universal, and the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel is an easy 20-minute stroll to City Walk and the park entrances. The Portofino Bay pools are great, there are three, and one is very peaceful, and another has a slide and daily activities with prizes. It is not usually difficult to find a lounger around these pools either, which is a blessing.
By booking via our luxury travel concierge and you get the following benefits for free at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel:
- Upgrade on arrival (subject to availability, up to Deluxe Room category)
- Continental breakfast daily served in the restaurant for up to two in-room guests
- One lunch for two at any Loews Portofino Bay Hotel restaurant (excluding Bice Ristorante), during your stay, excluding alcohol, taxes and gratuities, Amenity can only be redeemed at a Loews Portofino Bay Hotel operated restaurant. Cannot be exchanged for a Credit. Room Service does not apply)
- 20% discount at the Mandara Spa for service of $100 USD or more
- Early check-in / late check-out (subject to availability)
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
2. Lowes Royal Pacific
This is the cheapest of the three Universal hotels and the second furthest when walking to the parks. The pool at the Royal Pacific has a fun boat water feature where the kids can play but no slide, which is a disadvantage. I do, however, like the tropical Royal Pacific theme.
The rooms at Lowes Royal Pacific have been recently refurbished. The bathroom has one sink. Rooms at both the Hard Rock and Portofino Bay have two sinks. They feel small, but being that this is the cheapest of the three hotels, this is to be expected.
3. Hard Rock Universal Orlando
The Hard Rock is closest to the entrance of Universal Orlando. The rooms are larger than Royal Pacific, and the pool has two hot tubs and a long slide. This slide is a major plus point and a reason to choose this hotel over the Lowes Royal Pacific.
4. Sapphire Falls
Royal Pacific Resort is the cheapest of the top three Universal hotels and the cheapest hotel to include a fast pass at Universal. The rooms here are smaller than the Hard Rock and the Portofino Bay, with smaller bathrooms with just a single sink. The overall offering is very comparable to the Sapphire Falls in amenities, room size, pool, etc., but the Universal Express passes are bundled their cost into the room rates in the Royal Pacific and not in the Sapphire Falls. You are paying virtually the same price for the room with the Sapphire falls, only coming in cheaper as it doesn’t have the express passes included. It is very much worth having one of these passes, so `I would always choose to stay at the Royal Pacific over the Sapphire falls, given that the rest of the hotels are so similar.
Choosing the Royal Pacific is particularly worth doing if you can cram your whole family into a room (rooms can accept 4-5 people max) and want to stay over Christmas or Thanksgiving when a pass can cost as much as $150 USD per person. The holiday seasons are also when the lines are longest, so it is well worth having these passes.
Worth knowing: Express passes do not include theme park admission. Hotel guests still have to purchase park tickets.
5. Cabana Bay Universal Orlando Review
Cabana Bay offers excellent value with lower rates than any of the other Universal hotels and impressive amenities such as roomy family suites, a large, complimentary fitness center, and well-appointed pool areas that include a water slide and lazy river.
It is well appointed and has a great retro 50s and 60s vibe. This hotel is close enough to the parks that you can easily stroll to the parks and CityWalk. Cabana Bay and Portofino Bay are the furthest away, but the pretty path that connects all of the hotels is lovely. Free water taxis also operate frequently to all hotels except Cabana Bay. In addition to standard rooms, the hotel offers family suites that can accommodate up to six guests and include kitchenettes.
Interestingly, Cabana Bay is the only Universal hotel that accepts pets, so if you have a plus one with fur legs, this is the hotel for you!
While rates might be lower at other hotels outside the park, visitors should consider the many amenities, including the Express passes, early park admission, the ease of getting around the resort, and other benefits listed below to work out the value of staying on property.
6. The Hampton Inn
The Hampton Inn Closest to Universal Orlando is just 0.9 miles from Universal Studios Florida. It is cheap and cheerful, and the hotel also offers a coffee shop and a bowling alley. They have buses going to and from the hotel to the parks.
7. Best Western Plus Universal Inn
Best Western Plus Universal Inn is just 0.7 miles from Universal Studios, Florida. A quick shuttle ride will whisk you to Universal Studios Florida, so the location to the theme park was ideal.
8. Hyatt House
Hyatt House across from Universal Orlando Resort is just 0.7 miles from Universal Studios, Florida. The Hyatt House feels more like a Hyatt Regency than a Hyatt Place and is a good option if you want to earn and burn world of Hyatt points.
9. The Ritz-Carlton, Orlando, Grande Lakes
The Ritz-Carlton hotel in Orlando is a great luxury hotel choice. It is located in the Grande Lakes part of the city, within a short free shuttle ride to Disney and Universal (included with the resort fee of $35 USD per day). The resort fee also includes Wi-Fi, phone calls, the driving range, some kids’ activities, access to and floaties at the JW Marriott lazy river, and shuttle transport to Disney and SeaWorld (reservation required at least 24 hours in advance) and one-hour bike rental.
The hotel is next door to the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes. It’s about a 20-minute drive from Orlando Airport (MCO), and parking fees are around $40 USD per night if you have driven to the hotel.
I would choose this hotel because it offers luxury nearby the theme parks and an excellent club lounge. It also has three wonderful pools, a Ritz-Carlton Spa, a Greg Norman-designed golf course, and 11 dining options. You can also use the lazy river next door at the JW Marriott, which kids and the young at heart will love. The Ritz-Carlton Spa is also not to be missed, with its 40 treatment rooms, salon, private heated lap pool, and healthy spa café. Of note, the JW Marriott does not have a club lounge so you do better booking into a Club Room at the Ritz-Carlton and then taking advantage of the magnificent lazy river at the JW Marriott during your stay whilst retaining access to the RC club lounge.
The foyer is a mass of marble, and the rooms have been recently refurbished and are spacious and stylish. The rooms, including the club level, feature balconies with spectacular views of the resort’s gardens, lakes, or golf course.
The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes is ideal for families, providing convenient access to nearby Walt Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios attractions; plus, the Ritz Kids program is a favorite, and special excursions like kayaking, fishing instruction, and eco-tours allow for adventures while remaining in this 500-acre resort.
The highlight for me here is the pool, both here and next door at the JW Marriott with their lazy river and the incredible views of the resort holiday fireworks from the club lounge balcony.
The club lounge is on the 14th floor and is classic in design with orange and cream tones, mainly orange soft furnishings and creamy marbles. The long thin room is shuttered to one side with windows. The buffet here is delicious and filling. You can take a tour via the video on the Ritz-Carlton website.
The veranda of the club lounge overlooks the pool connects to the main club offering a great view of the Disney fireworks in the distance, a huge highlight, and also great outdoor seating if you want to enjoy a bite and a drink alfresco as the sun goes down.
There is also a complimentary Ritz Kids Day Time Programming for children (ages 4-12), up to three per room, as well as a media room with movies and classic family games.
By booking via our luxury travel concierge you get the following benefits for free at the Ritz-Carlton Orlando:
- Upgrade on arrival (subject to availability, limited to specific categories and excludes suites)
- $100 USD Resort/Hotel credit, to be utilized during stay (not combinable, not valid on room rate, no cash value if not redeemed in full)
- Daily Buffet breakfast, for up to two in room guests served in signature restaurant
- Early check-in / late check-out (subject to availability)
- Complimentary Wi-Fi
Rates might be lower at the cheaper hotels outside the parks, but you need to consider the Express passes, early park admission, the ease of getting to the resort, and the magic of the Universal resorts and their fantasy worlds when making your final choice. You may also want to read my in-depth look at the best hotel club lounges in Orlando.
Note: Benefits offered correct at the time of writing but may be amended at discretion of the vendor.
Disclosure: Posts may be sponsored by the proprietor or brand being appraised. All opinions remain our own & are in no way influenced.